Problem Solvers Caucus may be key to re-establishing Committee on Aging

Published in RINewsToday on Jan. 16, 2023

H.R. Res. 583, Reestablishing the Permanent House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA), chances were growing slim in getting Congressional attention for passage in the final days of the 117th Congress. Extensive media coverage of the ongoing Ukraine War, the wrap up and issuance of the Jan. 6th hearing’s report and midterm election coverage kept Congressman David Cicilline’s (D-RI) resolution from getting political traction from being considered by the House Rules Committee for ultimate passage and floor action.

The HSCoA was a permanent select committee of the U.S. House of Representatives between 1974 and 1992. The committee was initially created with the intent not of crafting legislative proposals, but of conducting investigations and holding hearings to put the Congressional spotlight on aging issues. Its purpose was to push for legislation and other action, working with standing committees, through regular committee channels. If  H. Res. 583 was passed by the House Rules Committee, it would have brought back the HSCoA. No Senate action was required.

According to the Congressional Research Services, it is a very simple process to create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee by just approving a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee—giving a purpose, defining membership, and detailing other issues that need to be address.  Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

Taking a Looking Back

Last Congress, Cicilline’s H. Res 583 would reestablish a HSCoA without having legislative jurisdiction, this being no different than when the select committee previously existed. It would be authorized to conduct a continuing comprehensive study and review of aging issues, such as income maintenance, poverty, housing, health (including medical research), welfare, employment, education, recreation, and long-term care. These efforts influenced legislation taken up by standing committees.

H. Res. 583 would authorize the reestablished HSCoA Committee to study the use of all practicable means and methods of encouraging the development of public and private programs and policies which will assist seniors in taking a full part in national life and which will encourage the utilization of the knowledge, skills, special aptitudes, and abilities of seniors to contribute to a better quality of life for all Americans.

It would also allow the HSCoA to develop policies that would encourage the coordination of both governmental and private programs designed to deal with problems of aging and to review any recommendations made by the President or White House Conference on Aging in relation to programs or policies affecting seniors.

Cicilline’s H. Res. 583 drew the support and attention of the Max Richtman, President and CEO of the Washington, DC-based Leadership Council on Aging and a former Staff Director of the Senate Permanent Special Committee on Aging, along with President Nancy Altman of Social Security Works, and Chair of Strengthen Social Security Coalition.   

Robert Weiner, former chief of staff of the HSCoA, Tom Spulak, former staff director and General Counsel of the House Rules Committee and Vin Marzullo, a well-known aging advocate in Rhode Island, including this writer were strong advocates for passage of this resolution.

Although H. Res. 583 had strong backing from the aging network, the bill never was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor considered by the Democratic controlled House Rules Committee As a result, the resolution never reached the House floor for a vote. As a result, the resolution died at the end of the 117th Congressional session.

The House must reestablish the HSCoA

It is now crucial for Cicilline to reach across the aisle for Republican cosponsors when he reintroduces H. Res. 583 during the new Congress. The need for reestablishing this investigative committee still exists today as when it was first introduced eight years ago.

“America’s seniors have spent a lifetime working hard and moving our country forward and they deserve the financially secure retirement that they worked and paid for. The pandemic disproportionately impacted seniors, and now those with fixed incomes are bearing the burden of inflation and the higher costs food, housing, and other essentials,” says Cicilline.

“I’m extremely proud that we were able to institute a $35 cap on insulin costs and bring down prescription and medical costs for seniors through the Inflation Reduction Act, but there is more work to be done. Reauthorizing the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging will give us the dedicated staff and resources necessary to study and address the issues that affect seniors to make sure they can live the rest of their lives with dignity and security,” adds Cicilline.

“It is vitally important that we ensure Rhode Island seniors have the financial security, access to high quality health care and quality of life they have earned. For this reason, I am proud to support the reestablishment of the HSCoA, and encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle make senior citizens’ issues a priority in the 118th Congress,” adds newly elected Congressman Seth Magaziner.

In the article, “Senior’s Need House of Reps to Bring Back Aging Committee,” I previously coauthored with Tom Spulak and Robert Weiner on this statewide news blog last July, provides the rational and reasoning for reestablishing the HSCoA.

Specifically…

“Every day, 12,000 Americans turn 60. By 2030, nearly 75 million people in the U.S.—or 20 percent of the country—will be age 65 or older. As America grows older, the need for support and services provided under programs like Social Security, SSI, Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act also increases,” and the need for re-establishing the HSCoA becomes even more important.”

“Historically, the HSCoA served as a unique venue that allowed open, bipartisan House debate from various ideological and philosophical perspectives to promote consensus that, in turn, helped facilitate the critical work of the standing committees. Addressing the needs of older Americans in a post-pandemic world will require this type of investigative, legislative oversight, work which can only be advanced and promoted by reestablishing the HSCoA.”

“As Americans are aging, we also face a variety of intergenerational concerns that merit the investigation by the HSCoA, such as growing demands on family caregivers and a burgeoning retirement security crisis.”

“Restoring the HSCoA would provide the House with an opportunity to more fully explore a range of aging issues and innovations that cross Standing Committee jurisdiction of importance to both Republicans and Democrats, while holding field hearings, convening remote hearings, engaging communities and promoting understanding and dialogue.”

“Today, the Senate Permanent Special Committee on Aging is working on everything from scams against seniors to increasing HCBS services, to calling out questionable billing practices by Medicare Advantage insurers. Seniors have been better off over the last 30 years with a Senate Aging Committee in existence — and the Senate investigative committee would benefit from a reestablished HSCoA, whose sole mission would be to look out for older American.”

“Over 30 years ago, working closely with authorizing committees with jurisdiction over aging programs and services, the HSCoA put an end to mandatory retirement.  Alzheimer’s became a household word because of its investigative hearings. Legislation was passed to improve the quality of care in the nation’s nursing homes, even creating the nation’s National Institute’s for Health.“

Centralist to play key role in passage 

“This is a unique moment in time where centrists from both sides in the House could influence legislative action thru genuine bipartisan collaboration”, said Vin Marzullo, who served 31 years as a career federal civil rights & social justice administrator at the National Service agency.   “I am urging our newly elected Congressman, Seth Magaziner, to join with the lead sponsor, Congressman David Cicilline, in the re-introduction of the House Resolution to re-establish HSCoA. 

Additionally, I would advise that bipartisan efforts begin by reaching out to Congressmen Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), co-chairs of the “Problems Solvers Caucus,” for their co-sponsorship/support”, added Marzullo.  “That could be a pathway for better legislating and governing and Congressman Magaziner stated during the campaign that he’d look for common ground with members on the other side of the aisle.  This is it — we need an adult conversation about the Aging of America and how we intend to aid and support our elders, caregivers, and long term care options.”

We’ll see if Cicilline and Magaziner tag-team for a fifth attempt to reestablish the HSCoA.  For the sake of improving the quality of life of America’s seniors, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) must put politics aside and work with a Bi-Partisan Coalition and the Democratic Caucus, to achieve real results for our nation’s older adults. 

For details about the House Problem Solvers Caucus, go to  https://problemsolverscaucus.house.gov/.

My most popular reads as an “age beat” journalist in 2022

Published in RINewsToday on January 2, 2023

 As an ‘age beat’ journalist for over 43 years, I have freelanced more than 867 stories covering aging, health care and medical issues. These authored and coauthored pieces have appeared in national, state, trade and association publications and even statewide news blogs. In 2022, my articles appeared weekly in 52 issues of RINewsToday.com. Here are the top five articles read on this state-wide blog last year.

“Aging in Place in Your Rhode Island Community,” published in the May 2, 2022 issue of RINewsToday. 

According to this article, the aging of the nation’s population continues with seniors choosing to live out their remaining years, aging in place in their communities. The article discusses the findings of a study of adults age 50 and older conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Research and the SCAN Foundation. This study confirms that a majority of older respondents would like to age in place and are confident they can access needed health care services that will allow them to stay at home for as long as possible.  

In this article, Mary Lou Moran, Director, Pawtucket Division of Senior Services at the Leon Mathieu Senior Center, who noted, “the coordination, accessibility, and connection to services and programs is critical to the successful delivery of services and is where much work needs to be done.  

 Moran stressed the importance of senior centers located in communities throughout the state that delivered needed information and assistance to seniors on accessing the needed services to age in place. Social isolation, access to transportation, food and housing insecurity, economic stability, and connectivity to services, are obstacles to enabling a person to stay in the community in their homes, says Moran.

 Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and Chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, also described state programs that assist seniors age in place in Rhode Island.

 Finally, the article gave a history of the National Village to Village Movement and its impact on Rhode Island.  It noted that The Village Common of Rhode Island (TVC), with programs in Providence, Barrington, Edgewood/Cranston, and Westerly, provides supports to keep seniors at home through the efforts of almost 200 trained and vetted volunteers.

TVC supports include transportation, running errands, home visits and telephone assurance, minor home repairs and light yard work, assistance with technology, and a virtual caregiver support program. A robust weekly calendar offers virtual events, and a monthly newsletter keeps members and guests informed.

 To read this article, go to https://rinewstoday.com/aging-in-place-in-your-rhode-island-community-herb-weiss/

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“Calls for Rhode Island to Become more “Age Friendly,” published in the Jan. 24, 2002  2022 issue of RINewsToday. 

This article gave a background of a United Nation’s initiative to create “age friendly” communities.  Over two years ago, a proposal was endorsed by the 73rd World Health Assembly. It was presented to the U.N. General Assembly Dec. 14, 2020, (Resolution 75/131), leading to the proclamation of a U.N. Decade of Healthy Aging (2021-2030).

The four-page Resolution expressed concern that, despite the predictability of population aging and its accelerating pace, the world is not sufficiently prepared to respond to the rights and needs of older people. It acknowledges that the aging of the population impacts our health systems but also many other aspects of society, including labor and financial markets and the demand for goods and services, such as education, housing, long-term care, social protection and information. It thus requires a total whole-of-society approach to make “age friendly” changes.

Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, noted that many Rhode Island communities are involved to 1 degree or another in what we consider age-friendly activities. “The initiative is usually led by the local senior center and in some instances volunteer programs such as RSVP and AARP and The Village Common of RI,” she says.

 According to Maigret, over the last five years the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council Aging (LTCCC) in Community Subcommittee has adopted and continues to work to support WHO’s decadelong initiative, adding the domains of Food & Nutrition and Economic Security and Supports to Remain at Home.

Newport was the first community to join the AARP age-friendly network; Cranston, Providence and Westerly following. The state’s Office of Healthy Aging has adopted its State Plan on Aging, calling for Rhode Island to become an age-friendly state, says Maigret.

 Maigret called on Rhode Island’s cities and towns review their community’s Comprehensive Plans to see how age-friendliness is addressed. “This is what Newport did. 

To read this article, go to https://rinewstoday.com/calls-for-rhode-island-to-become-more-age-friendly-herb-weiss/

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“Bill would (Re)create a RI Department of Healthy Aging,” published in the March 21, 2022 issue of RINewsToday. 

This article described a legislative proposal on Smith Hill to transform the state’s Office of Healthy Aging (OHA) into a department making it far more visible and effective as an advocate for the state’s growing senior population.  H. 7616, introduced by Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-District 75, Newport), would expand the office in the Department of Human Services (DHS) into a full-fledged state department, expand its director’s authority, and appoint local senior centers as hubs for service delivery, with authority to bill Medicaid for transportation services.

The RI Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA) was created by law in 1977 and remained a department until 2011, when the legislature changed it to a division within the Department of Human Services (DHS). In 2019, the department was re-named the Office of Healthy Aging (OHA), shifting narratives and perceptions associated with growing older. At press time, the Office of Healthy Aging remains a division under the Department of Human Services. 

  “Restoring the OHA to a department status will strengthen its position at the budget table and elevate the importance of programs supporting older residents of our state. We hope that will make a difference,” says Bernard J. Beaudreau, Executive Director of the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island.

 .“The legislation proposed by Rep. Carson elevates the conversation about the importance of age-friendly policies that enable Rhode Islanders to choose how we live as we age,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor. “AARP Rhode Island looks forward to being part of this conversation and continuing to advocate fiercely at both the state and local levels for enhanced home and community-based supportive services, accessible and affordable housing and transportation options, and full inclusion of people of all ages and abilities in community life,” she said. 

According to Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and chair of the Aging in Community Sub-committee of Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, H 7616 is a very significant bill that will help to stimulate a long due discussion as to how the state should fund senior programs and services in light of the state’s growing age 65 and older population. This age group is projected to represent at least one in five of  the state’s residents by 2040.

 To read this article, go to 
https://rinewstoday.com/bill-would-recreate-a-ri-department-of-healthy-aging-herb-weiss/

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 “RI Candidates for Governor Spotlight Senior Issues at Forum,” published in the August 8, 2022 issue of RINewsToday. 

This article reported on a 143-minute Rhode Island Gubernatorial form where five Democratic and one Republican gave two minute responses to seven questions previously given to them by the Senior Agenda Coalitionof Rhode Island (SACRI).   These questions were intended to how these candidates if elected Governor would fix Rhode Island’s fragmented long-term care continuum and provider payment systems.

According to Bernard J. Beaudreau, Executive Director of the Providence-based SACRI about 300 seniors and aging advocates came to personally see the Gubernatorial candidates outline their position on aging issues. Multiple platforms on Facebook and YouTube were promoted by a variety of senior advocacy groups that resulted in the over 300 virtual audience. Some held “watch parties” at one or more of the 12 senior centers, with approximately 135 people participating from throughout the state.

 Maureen Maigret, chair of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Aging in Community Subcommittee and SACRI Board Member reported that all candidates supported: “making the Office of Healthy Aging a full cabinet/department with review of sufficiency of resources; expansion of Medicare Savings Program which I have been advocating for at least 5 years and adding a state COLA to SSI payments; requiring better data on minority older adult inclusion; addressing community living, housing and transportation needs of older persons and developing and implementing a comprehensive, interdepartmental strategic Plan on Aging.

 To read this article, go to 
https://rinewstoday.com/ri-candidates-for-governor-spotlight-senior-issues-at-forum-herb-weiss/

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“Larson Pushes to Get Social Security Reform Proposal for House Vote, published in the  June 13, issue of RINewsToday. 

This article reported that the House Ways and Means Committee was preparing for a full mark-up on H.R. 5723, Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, authored by Committee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT) this summer.  

 Larson says that over 200 House Democrats [no Republican has yet to support the proposal], are cosponsoring H.R. 5723. Forty-two national organizations (aging, union, veterans, disability, and consumer health organizations) are calling for passage of H.R. 5723, including the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition representing hundreds of national and state aging organizations.

 According to a legislative fact sheet, H.R. 5723 both expands the program’s benefits and financially strengthens its. Here are a few provisions:

 Specifically, it would give a benefit bump for current and new Social Security beneficiaries by providing an increase for all beneficiaries (receiving retirement, disability, or dependent benefits).

The proposal would also protect Social Security beneficiaries against inflation by adopting a Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), to better reflect the costs incurred by seniors who spend a greater portion of their income on health care and other necessities.

This legislative proposal protects low-income workers by providing a new minimum benefit set at 25% above the poverty line and would be tied to wage levels to ensure that minimum benefits does not fall behind.

 It is expected that Larson will reintroduce this legislative proposal next Congress.  To read this article, go to https://herbweiss.blog/2022/06/13/larson-pushes-to-get-social-security-reform-proposal-for-house-vote/

America’s Seniors need House of Reps. to bring back Aging Committee

Published in RINewsToday on July 4, 2022

By Tom Spulak, Bob Weiner and Herb Weiss

With a backdrop of extensive media coverage of the ongoing Ukraine War, the Jan. 6th hearings, and covering the political postering of Republican and Democrats as the midterm elections approach (just 127 days from now), Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) along with 50 Democratic cosponsors calls on the House of Representatives to pass his legislation, H. Res. 583, that would reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging, (HSCoA) and for Speaker Pelosi and Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern to schedule the necessary consideration in the House Rules Committee to enable floor action.

The Rhode Island Congressman’s effort has caught the attention of a group, including former Congressional staffers, the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition (both representing over 100 million seniors age 50 and over), Execs of national aging groups, the Florida-based Claude Pepper Foundation, and a Rhode Island writer, who see the need to bring the investigative Special Committee back to put the spotlight on a myriad of aging issues that Congress must address.

Every day, 12,000 Americans turn 60. By 2030, nearly 75 million people in the U.S.—or 20 percent of the country—will be age 65 or older. “As America grows older, the need for support and services provided under programs like Social Security, SSI, Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act also increases,” and the need for re-establishing the House Selection Committee on Aging (HSCoA) becomes even more important.

The last two years have proven particularly difficult for older adults in our country as the coronavirus had a disparate impact on the lives of older Americans, particularly those residing in the 28,900 nation’s assisted living facilities and over 15,000 nursing homes.

Historically, the HSCoA, operational from1975 to 1993, served as a unique venue that allowed open, bipartisan debate from various ideological and philosophical perspectives to promote consensus that, in turn, helped facilitate the critical work of the standing committees. Addressing the needs of older Americans in a post-pandemic world will require this type of investigative, legislative oversight, work which can be advanced and promoted by reestablishing the HSCoA.

As Americans are aging, we also face a variety of intergenerational concerns that merit the investigation by the HSCoA, such as growing demands on family caregivers and a burgeoning retirement security crisis.

A restored HSCoA would have an opportunity to more fully explore a range of aging issues and innovations that cross Authorizing Committees of jurisdiction, while holding field hearings, convening remote hearings, engaging communities, and promoting understanding and dialogue. Having both would bring value to Congressional deliberations.

Today, the Senate Permanent Special Committee on Aging is working on everything from scams against seniors to increasing Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), to calling out questionable billing practices by private Medicare Advantage insurers. Seniors have been better off over the last 30 years with a Senate Aging Committee in existence — and the Senate investigative committee would benefit from a reestablished HSCoA, whose sole mission would be to look out for older Americans.

Older voters vote both Democratic and Republican. Although the Democrats created an array of federal programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act, these doesn’t guarantee they vote for this party. Quite candidly, it’s close. In 2020, while Joe Biden won the popular vote by 7 million, Donald Trump won the senior vote 52% to 47%. It’s not a matter of party. Seniors’ quality of life is not political. Passage of H. Res. 583 would send a very clear message out to America’s older voters that Congress can successfully govern and create legislation to enhance the quality of life in their later years.

Over 30 years ago, Congressman Claude Pepper died. He was a great visible national advocate for America’s seniors. In his 80s, he chaired the HSCoA and later the House Rules Committee. As Chair of HSCoA, he passed landmark aging legislation, working closely with the House authorizing committees with jurisdiction over aging programs and services. His efforts put an end to mandatory retirement. Alzheimer’s became a household word because of the hearing of his investigative committee. Legislation was passed to enhance the quality of care in the nation’s nursing homes, even creating the National Institute’s for Health.

As newspapers in communities across the nation curtail or jettison their investigative teams, the initial HSCoA has a proven track record and reputation of investigating aging issues, and this is a sound reason as to why the investigative committee should again be reactivated.

Reestablishing the HSCoA would recognize Congressman Pepper, the nation’s most visible and effective spokesperson for seniors, and more importantly to seniors a seat at the “legislative table” as Congress deliberates and debate aging policy issues.

What a symbolic opportunity to have passed H. Res. 583 in May during Older Americans Month. Sadly, this did not happen. But Speaker Pelosi has an opportunity to use her leadership position to endorse the resolution to bring back the HSCoA before the midterm elections. And Congressman Cicilline must continually remind his House colleagues of this resolution’s importance to America’s seniors, each, and every chance he has — on the House floor, at Committee meetings, and in the hallowed halls of Congress.  With the support of the Democratic caucus, leadership will get the message that it’s time to act.  Now.

Tom Spulak, former staff director and General Counsel of the House Rules Committee when Claude Pepper was Chairman.

Bob Weiner is former staff director and confident to the late Congressman Pepper when he chaired the HSCoA.

Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket, RI-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 40 yearsand writes this weekly column on aging issues for RINewsToday.com.